Belfast Telegraph

General Election 2019

South Belfast: SDLP's Claire Hanna in crushing victory over DUP's Emma Little-Pengelly

  • Eligible electorate: 69,984​
  • Votes polled: 47,527
  • Valid votes: 47,352
  • Turnout: 67.91%
  • Majority: 15,401
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 12th December 2019 - General Election 2019 - Election count at Titanic Exhibition Centre, Belfast for Belfast East, Belfast South, Belfast West, Belfast North, East Antrim & South Down.
Claire Hanna pictured at the count centre.
Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 12th December 2019 - General Election 2019 - Election count at Titanic Exhibition Centre, Belfast for Belfast East, Belfast South, Belfast West, Belfast North, East Antrim & South Down. Claire Hanna pictured at the count centre. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
SDLP South Belfast MP Claire Hanna congratulated by husband Donal Lyons. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Lauren Harte

By Lauren Harte

The battle for South Belfast was expected to be one of the closest contests of the general election but in the end the bookies were wide off the mark as the SDLP's Claire Hanna ousted the DUP's Emma Little Pengelly by over 15,000 votes. ​

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Hanna won South Belfast for the SDLP with 27,079 votes, the DUP's Emma Little-Pengelly receiving 11,678, Alliance's Paula Bradshaw 6786, UUP's Michael Henderson 1259 and Aontu's Chris McHugh finishing on 550.

Voter turnout in the constituency increased by 1.5 percentage points since the last general election.

Claire Hanna had her heart set on regaining the seat previously held by her former party leader Alasdair McDonnell who lost by just under 2,000 votes to the DUP after 12 years as its MP.

But it all looked very different back in February when Ms Hanna resigned the SDLP whip following the party's link up with Fianna Fail.

She had also quit as the SDLP's Brexit spokesperson but continued to be a member of the party and as an MLA representing constituents in south Belfast.

But any differences were soon put aside as the SDLP turned its attention to getting back to the House of Commons.

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Ms Hanna's chances were bolstered when first Green Party leader Clare Bailey and then Sinn Fein's Mairtin O Muilleoir pulled out of the race, instead backing Ms Hanna on a pro-Remain platform.

As her party's most high-profile MLA on broadcast media, and with personal and family links to the constituency dating back decades, Hanna went into the race on a strong footing but appeared overwhelmed as the vote outcome was revealed.

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Emma Pengelly and Arlene Foster during the General Election count in Belfast on December 12th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

While Little-Pengelly looked close to tears at times as her loss sunk in, she remained gracious in defeat as she hugged her victorious rival.

She even managed to jokingly thank Ms Hanna "for the very long wait to get this over with".

The outgoing MP added: "We knew things were going to be very challenging for us in South Belfast in a constituency with 33,000 people who voted remain at a time when Brexit has not been resolved one way or another. It was always going to be a difficult battle."

With her husband Donal Lyons, a Belfast city councillor looking on proudly, Ms Hanna paid tribute to her predecessor, saying her hard work and dedication to the constituency "had never been in doubt".

She also paid tribute to Green Party leader Clare Bailey for her decision to back her, saying the pro Remain arrangements "was clearly a move that had borne fruit across Northern Ireland in the seats that have been gained".

"We know there is no good form of Brexit, we have many, many challenges ahead of us but we do know that the relationships that we have to protect within Northern Ireland and on an East-West basis and North-South basis have to be nurtured," Ms Hanna said.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said it was a "hugely disappointing" evening for her party.

"It was very clear in both North Belfast and South Belfast that nationalism came together and decided they were going to get rid of Emma (Little-Pengelly) and Nigel (Dodds).

"We fought very hard against that but the numbers were against us in both constituencies."

Despite losing 268 votes on the 2017 result, Ulster Unionist candidate Michael Henderson said he was pleased with the outcome for his party.

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